Lawmakers hit a new low with sneak attack on reproductive rights
Just when you thought things couldn’t get much worse this year at the North Carolina General Assembly, they did. The latest remarkable attempt to drag North Carolina back to the mid-20th Century occurred last evening when state Senate leaders sprung a new, omnibus anti-abortion bill  at the 11th hour of the 2013 session. The move would have made King George III blush.
It was an apt step for a group that has repeatedly used hypocritical statements about “freedom” and “liberty” to justify its regressive actions. Not only did state senators pile on a raft of new impediments to reproductive freedom for the state’s nearly five million women, but they did so by springing their surprise in a pair of kangaroo sessions (a hastily called Judiciary Committee meeting that had been scheduled for 10:00 in the morning to discuss a silly bill that had been about “Sharia law ” and a late night floor session that took up the bill immediately after its approval in the committee). The bill was then redubbed with the almost comically inaccurate name of the “Family, Faith and Freedom Protection Act.”
That the measure arose out of thin air just before the national Independence Day holiday on a week during which the state House is not even in session only added to the atmosphere of furtiveness and dishonesty.
The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina  described the sneak attack this way:
“This evening, without any public notice or debate, the North Carolina Senate voted to pass an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would severely restrict women’s access to abortion care by prohibiting health plans offered through federal health care exchanges from offering abortion coverage, requiring abortion clinics to go through a licensing process similar to outpatient surgical clinics, allowing all health care providers to opt out of providing abortion care, requiring doctors to stay in the room for an entire abortion procedure (regardless of whether it is surgical, medical, or chemical), and compel doctors to interrogate patients about the reason they are having an abortion by prohibiting doctors from knowingly performing a sex-selection abortion.
The provisions were tacked onto House Bill 695, which seeks to ban use of Sharia and other foreign laws in North Carolina. The bill passed the Senate 27-14 but was objected to on third reading.
Sarah Preston, Policy Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, released the following statement:
‘This attempted sneak attack on women’s reproductive rights is absolutely shameful. Issues as vital and personal as access to comprehensive health care and doctor-patient relationships deserve to be debated in an open, public process – not hastily pushed through without notice and under the cover of night during a holiday week. These loathsome restrictions and the deceitful method through which the Senate tried to pass them are an obvious effort to not simply prevent women in North Carolina from having comprehensive access to much-needed health care, but to not even give them an opportunity to weigh in on legislation that will have wide-ranging impacts on women and doctors all across our state.’”
Suzanne Buckley of NARAL Pro Choice North Carolina  described the move this way:
“’North Carolina’s anti-choice lawmakers are taking their cues from underhanded attacks on women’s reproductive rights in Texas and Ohio. In the final minutes of marking up an unrelated piece of legislation, the Senate Judiciary committee swiftly tacked on every anti-choice piece of legislation introduced since January to this bill and sent the bill to the floor with no warning in a rare evening session,’ stated Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.
‘The politicians responsible for this backdoor maneuvering have taken seriously the rising tide of activists gathering weekly outside the General Assembly to oppose anti-choice legislation. Unfortunately, the lesson they’ve taken is that the best way to accomplish their goals is to hide their maneuvers from the public,’ she continued.
‘This is a cowardly move intended to silence pro-choice voices because they know that if they show their extreme agenda in the light of day, they’ll hear from us. Within minutes of introducing these amendments, they’ve land on the Senate floor for a vote — in so little time that North Carolina’s pro-choice majority won’t be able to weigh in with the very legislators who represent them,’ Buckley concluded.”
Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina  issued this statement this morning:
“’Last night the NC Senate used the dirtiest tactics we’ve seen this legislative session attempting to sneak their abortion restriction wish-list into law,’ said Alison Kiser, Director of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central NC. ‘They were unable to achieve their extreme anti-women’s health political agenda during the course of normal business so now the NC Senate is stooping to these underhanded tricks pushing it through in a matter of hours and during a holiday week when they believe women and the media aren’t paying attention,’ Kiser continued.
‘This bill amounts to an abortion ban in North Carolina,’ Melissa Reed, Vice President of Public Affairs for Planned Parenthood Health Systems said. ‘It is shameful and NC Senators clearly believe that women aren’t paying attention, but they couldn’t be more wrong. Just like we saw in Texas last week women’s health advocates will be protesting in Raleigh this morning and will not let the Senate sneak this harmful measure through without a fight.’”
Despite the underhanded and last minute way in which the bill arose last night, pro-choice activists were rallying to meet the challenge this morning with a plan to pack the Senate gallery when it convenes at 9:00 am .
And while even a large turnout seems unlikely to dissuade the Senate, activists hope that it will help to convince other conservative leaders – particularly Gov. McCrory – to rediscover their supposed commitment to freedom and small government and reject such extreme and dishonest legislation.
Indeed, for McCrory, the Senate action appears to herald a fast-approaching moment of truth – the point at which, for the first time, he will be required to abandon his position as partially-engaged lapdog  and stand up for what he says he believes (the Governor pledged to oppose new abortion restrictions during the 2012 campaign).
Whether McCrory, in fact, possesses the inner strength to buck the extreme right wing of the conservative movement that helped put him in office by opposing the measure and doing so effectively remains to be seen, of course. But one thing that is entirely clear as North Carolina prepares to celebrate the 237th anniversary of American independence is this: Freedom remains an extremely fragile commodity in 2013. If North Carolinians are to avoid surrendering what is arguably the most precious freedom they possess – the right to control their own bodies – caring and thinking people must not remain passive bystanders or allow their governor to be one either in the days ahead.